In 2020, new, previously unseen photographs from the Sobibor concentration camp came to light. They belonged to Johann Niemann, an SS-officer and part of the management of the camp. The only goal of Sobibor was to kill hundreds and thousands of Jews from the Polish Ghettos in the most efficient way. Together with Treblinka, Belzec and Majdanek, Sobibor is one of the camps of "Operation Reinhardt," a Nazi extermination campaign that took nearly two million lives within a few months in 1942/43. Unlike Auschwitz, Operation Reinhardt left few traces and few survivors. Niemann's photographs documented an idyllic German scene: horse-riding, music, and social gatherings. All the while Jews were being gassed and burned next door.
This film tells how an inconceivable crime gradually became a reality. While the German empire fell behind against the industrial power of the USA, news of the mass murders spread. Millions of Germans profited from the genocide, becoming complicit in the regime. Destruction and exploitation went hand in hand: While the victims of “Operation Reinhardt” were killed directly, industry and the SS around the Auschwitz-Monowitz concentration camp profited from the forced labor of concentration camp inmates working under inhumane conditions.
From the home front to the Polish ghettos, in the occupied territories of Western Europe, and the Vatican, even as far as the White House, knowledge of the genocide of the Jewish population spread. In small circles, SS chief Heinrich Himmler even boasted about it. Claiming to have forced the German people into a criminal conspiracy, requiring them to fight to the bitter end.
What facilitated the rise of the Nazis?
With this 10-part documentary series "The Abyss - Rise and Fall of the Nazis" ZDFinfo is using the power of film to take a stand against ignorance towards the past. The project tells the story of the rise and fall of National Socialism from an international perspective, examining the causes of the rupture in civilization at the hands of Germans, which led from a crisis-ridden democracy to war and genocide.
Rare, and newly discovered film and photo footage, as well as 40 field-leading experts such as Richard J. Evans, Mary Fulbrook, Peter Longerich, Moshe Zimmermann, Alexandra Richie, and Götz Aly, offer new perspectives on the history between 1918 and 1948.
Based on the latest research, the series focuses on both the motives of the perpetrators, but also on the responsibility of a significant portion of the German people What facilitated the rise of the Nazis. What paved the way for the genocide of the Jews? This is the story of how humanity's darkest hour took place. The Abyss.